Britain’s bookies are eyeing a potential US betting goldmine after the head of the National Basketball Association urged US lawmakers to legalise what has turned into a $400bn (£250bn) industry largely controlled by the black economy.
Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, one of the world’s most valuable sports leagues, has joined the voices calling for legalisation. Writing in The New York Times, he said sports betting had become “a thriving underground business” and that there was “an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events”.
Previously the major US sports leagues – the NBA, the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League – have opposed betting over integrity fears. Nevada remains its only legal redoubt and a recent attempt by New Jersey to authorise sports betting at local casinos and racetracks was struck down by the federal authorities.
But millions of Americans have bookies in an environment that resembles Britain prior to the legalisation of off-course betting in 1961.
Were the industry to be legitimised and taxed, it could spark a gold rush among gambling firms.
“We agree with Commissioner Silver that a legal and regulated sports betting industry, like we have in Nevada and elsewhere in the world, is the best way to protect the integrity of sporting events,” said Joe Asher, William Hill’s US chief executive. “It is also the right way to protect consumers, who otherwise turn to the massive illegal market that exists in the United States. We share Commissioner Silver’s view that the spread of legal sports betting in the US is inevitable; the sooner that happens, the better.”
Ladbrokes spokesman Ciaran O’Brien said: ”There is a multibillion-dollar sports betting market in the US. A large proportion of that is unlicensed, unregulated and untaxed … we would be keen to work with the sports bodies around delivering a regulated sports betting service that provides integrity to the sports as well as a service to the large base of sports fans in the US.”
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